Posts tagged ‘philanthropy’

September 18, 2020

Should You Forget about Planned Giving as 2020 Closes?

Garvin Maffett, EdD, a strategic consultant in the nonprofit sector, recently asked the members of the CFRE International Network on LinkedIn:

What’s on the horizon for Gift Planning during this uncertain time in our economy?”

It’s a good question, and I thank Maffett for starting a needed discussion. Some fundraising professionals have wondered whether they should rollback planned gift marketing during the pandemic, or whether they should boldly engage in more robust charitable gift planning efforts.

My simple answer is this: You should definitely NOT forget about planned giving as 2020 draws to a close. While the economic future is definitely uncertain, now is a fantastic time for charitable gift planning. Let me explain.

The stock market, while volatile, continues on an upward trajectory. Most Americans own stock. Many of those who own stock have seen appreciation this year. This means there is a great opportunity for you to secure gifts of appreciated stock for your organization.

Motivated by the coronavirus pandemic, many more people have chosen to write a Will. With more people making end-of-life plans, there is an opportunity to encourage them to include a gift to your charity in their Wills.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has people contemplating their own mortality, life insurance sales have increased. This presents you with an opportunity to encourage beneficiary designations for your nonprofit.

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August 14, 2020

Will Move to Dissolve the NRA Hurt Your Nonprofit?

This post is about the attempt of New York’s Attorney General to dissolve the National Rifle Association. However, this is NOT a political post. Whether or not you support the NRA, the legal fight over its future has potential implications for your nonprofit organization. Let’s take a closer look.

Doug White, a philanthropy advisor, author, and teacher, writes:

In a 169-page document made public earlier today (you can read the entire lawsuit here), [New York Attorney General] Letitia James alleges that NRA insiders have violated New York’s nonprofit laws by illegally diverting tens of millions of dollars from the group through excessive expenses and contracts that benefited relatives or close associates. The suit alleges that longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre and three other top officials ‘instituted a culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight at the NRA,’ failed to properly manage the organization’s money and violated numerous state and federal laws.

The lawsuit asks for a dozen measures to be taken. The first one: ‘Dissolving the NRA and directing that its remaining assets and any future assets be applied to charitable uses consistent with the mission set forth in the NRA’s certificate of incorporation.’”

White further notes that the legal action has been filed against the 501 (c)(4) organization, and not against any 501 (c)(3) organizations related to the NRA.

So, how could the case of the NRA affect your nonprofit organization?

Erosion of Public Trust: The mere accusations against the NRA, whether or not they are ultimately proven in court, have the power to not only erode confidence in the NRA, they have the potential to erode trust in all nonprofit organizations. If that happens, it could make fundraising more difficult. A special report in 2018 from the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org found:

While the majority of respondents (73 percent) say it is very important to trust a charity before giving, only a small portion of respondents (19 percent) say they highly trust charities and an even smaller portion (10 percent) are optimistic about the sector becoming more trustworthy over time.”

Enhancement of the Public Trust: On the other hand, New York’s action could enhance the level of trust people have in the nonprofit sector. If the Attorney General can prove her case, it would show the public that government officials are exercising appropriate oversight of the nonprofit sector which could elevate the public’s confidence that their donations to any nonprofit will be used appropriately. We know there is a correlation between the level of trust people have and the likelihood they will give as well as the amount of their giving.

Impact on Support to Controversial Organizations: If New York succeeds in liquidating the NRA, it will have the power to disburse the organization’s assets as it sees fit. How will this affect support to other controversial nonprofits if donors know that their donations could be redistributed by the state? It’s possible that this could result in more cautious behavior by donors.

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July 28, 2020

You Do Not Want to Miss This

I want to let you know about a great opportunity.

Every summer, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Tampa Bay Chapter and the Charitable Gift Planners of Tampa Bay join forces to host a planned giving symposium. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s in-person conference on August 18 is being replaced with an online symposium. While this is disappointing for the good people of the Tampa Bay region, it’s great news for fundraisers around the world who will now be able to participate in the program.

Philanthropy researcher Dr. Russell N. James III, JD, CFP® and I are honored to be the featured presenters for the conference. Here are the details:

2020 VIRTUAL PLANNED GIVING SYMPOSIUM ~ THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PLANNED GIVING

TUESDAY, AUGUST 18, 2020

9:00 AM – 11:30 AM (EDT)

SESSION 1: Legacy Fundraising — The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

PRESENTER: Michael J. Rosen

Pandemic. Protests. Riots, Looting. Unemployment. Recession. Those are some of the words that we can use to describe much of 2020. So, considering this chaotic environment, can you seek legacy gifts now or should you wait? Rosen, a consultant and author, will share the research-based risks and opportunities. He’ll examine a real world case of what not to do. In addition, he’ll provide useful, easy to implement tips on what you can do to help reach your planned giving objectives even during challenging times.

SESSION 2: Using Storytelling in Legacy Fundraising — New Findings, Ancient Origins and Practical Tips

PRESENTER: Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP®

Connecting with the donor’s life story in the right way can be a powerful trigger for legacy giving. But, how do we do that? Professor James shows how understanding the ancient origins and the latest research findings leads to simple, effective, practical techniques that anyone can use to more effectively encourage gifts in wills.

SESSION 3: An Open Conversation with the Planned Giving Experts James and Rosen

In an informal conversation, James and Rosen will answer your questions about planned giving. This interactive session gives you the opportunity to ask the experts for insights and tips to help you enhance your gift planning efforts.

FEE: For members of AFP-GTBC or CGP-TB, the symposium fee is $10. For all others, the fee is $15.

REGISTRATION: For more information and to register, you can go to the AFP-GTBC website or the CGP-TB website.

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June 5, 2020

Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Fundraising [WEBINAR]

I don’t have to tell you that these are troubling times. We’ve had to cope with coronavirus (COVID-19), the economic fallout from the pandemic and, now, the heart-wrenching killing of George “Perry” Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

As nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, we have a choice: We can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the horrible events of 2020, or we can continue to do what we always do and help those who depend on us. While the suffering around us pains me, I take some solace in knowing that. like you, I am a member of a noble profession that seeks to make the world a better place. We are needed now more than ever.

That’s why I want to invite you to join me and your nonprofit colleagues for a webinar to help you be more of the fundraising professional you aspire to be. The program is hosted by the Association Fundraising Professionals – Greater Philadelphia Chapter. Here are the details so you can register now:

Avoid the Seven Deadly Fundraising Sins and Raise More Money

Date: Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Time: 1:00 – 2:30 PM (EDT)

Description: Surveys show that the public’s trust in the nonprofit sector has been on a steady decline for years. At the same time, the number of charity donors has been on the decline and, in 2018, total giving fell by 1.7% in inflation-adjusted dollars.

This webinar will use real-world examples cited by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and pulled from news headlines to illustrate seven deadly fundraising sins involving: conflicts of interest, gift restrictions, accountability, tainted money, donor privacy, compensation, and cooking the books. By reviewing these examples, you’ll be better able to avoid making the same mistakes.

Because there are more than seven sins to avoid, you’ll also get a decision-making model to help you sidestep blunders, build trust, and raise more money.

Tickets: $15 (members), $40 (non-members)

Registration: Webinar seating is limited, so register now by clicking here.

As I have written previously:

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May 20, 2020

Your Charity’s Greatest Opportunity is the Rising Need of Donors to Connect

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has presented fundraising professionals with a large number of significant difficulties. One of those challenges is trying to figure out where to get solid, actionable information to help nonprofit organizations raise much-needed funds.

Now, Prof. Jen Shang, Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, comes to our rescue. On Friday, May 22, 2020, she will be presenting a special webinar: “How to Love Your Donors During COVID-19.” I recently received an email from Prof. Shang, along with three tips, that she is kindly allowing me to share with you.

Prof. Shang, the world’s only philanthropic psychologist, has found that the pandemic is causing donors to feel a lack of wellbeing. This is due in large part to a decrease in the sense of connection that people feel during the lockdown. Interestingly, this presents an opportunity for your charity.

When you help your donors feel a sense of real connection, you will help them feel a greater sense of wellbeing. When they associate that greater sense of wellbeing with your nonprofit organization, they will be more likely to renew and increase their support now and well into the future. In other words, by taking care of your donors, you will be taking care of your charity.

One of the things that will make this webinar a valuable experience for you is that it is based on scientific research rather than simply relying on war stories or opinion. In other words, the many bright ideas you’ll learn will be solid and safely actionable. As someone who has taken Prof. Shang’s Philanthropic Psychology course, I can personally assure you that you will get meaningful information that will help you enhance your fundraising efforts.

Here is Prof. Shang’s message:

 

COVID-19 has created such uncertainty in our lives that many are wondering how and when life will ever get back to normal and how we will survive it all in the meantime.

At the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, we have not stopped collecting data since the first country locked down at the beginning of this pandemic. And we have been collecting data on how good people feel every other week since.

This [post] will give you a first sneak peak of the findings, and three tips on what to do NOW that you’ll find at the end.

We will release the full results of these studies in a webinar that we will host twice this Friday, May 22 at 6:00 am UK time and again at 3:00 pm UK time.

We studied over 4,000 adults in the US and other countries.

We measured about 30 feelings that people experienced on a daily basis. We found that people’s feelings significantly worsened during the first six weeks of the pandemic. As the lockdown continued, people felt progressively worse.

Specifically, people felt less connected to others.

Psychologists have known for decades that feeling connected to others is one of the three most fundamental needs we have as humans. Our need to have this fulfilled cannot be changed. It is as certain as our life exists. Our sense of connectedness declines when we are isolated in lockdown, when we cannot physically see anyone or talk to anyone, and when we cannot hug anyone or kiss anyone. We have seen our connectedness score declining for over six weeks now.

There is no uncertainty in any of it. When humans are locked down, their need to connect rises. With data, we also know what they need and in what quantity.

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May 6, 2020

What is the Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success?

Once upon a time, there was a fundraising professional who found the recipe for the secret sauce of fundraising success. Through decades of dedicated work and careful research, she honed her skills. Now, she shares the secret with you in a book recently ranked by the BookAuthority as one of the “100 Best Fundraising Books of All Time.”

I’m talking about Lynn Malzone Ierardi, JD, Director of Gift Planning at The University of Pennsylvania. She offers her insights and wisdom in the 112-page book, Storytelling: The Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success. Don’t let the short length fool you. This is a volume stuffed full of valuable goodies.

As the official book description says:

Nonprofit organizations have amazing stories to share — stories of perseverance, fortitude, and generosity.

Stories give nonprofits a way to stand out in a world that gets noisier every day, where people are looking for ways to find meaning and connection.

Great stories engage donors and raise more money. Scientific evidence confirms good storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to engage stakeholders and influence behavior. Stories raise awareness, change behavior, and trigger generosity. Facts and logic are not nearly as persuasive as a good story. Stories penetrate our natural defense systems and become more compelling and memorable. As a result, great stories can be very powerful.

Like a good meal, storytelling can be delicious if it is executed with a bit of strategy. It requires planning the meal, choosing and collecting the right ingredients, and then sharing the meal with the right people, in the right setting, and at the right time.”

Throughout her book, Lynn uses a creative cookbook metaphor. This fun approach to a serious subject keeps the material from being dull and makes the tips easier to remember. Lynn does more than tell us why stories are important. She shows us what information is valuable (ingredients), how to gather the necessary information (shopping), how to effectively share stories (serving the entrée), how to craft the right story for the right situation (adding spices), how stories can be presented in different ways (side dishes), how to use stories to navigate change (the kitchen mishap), and the magic of success stories (a good dessert).

For years, we’ve heard that good storytelling is an important part of good fundraising. In Lynn’s practical book, you’ll find numerous, easy to follow tips for putting that notion into practice. Furthermore, you’ll learn how you can use storytelling to put board members and volunteers at ease when seeking to engage them in the fundraising process. I thank Lynn for her willingness to share some bonus thoughts with us along that line:

 

Snakes. Heights. Public speaking. Asking for money. Even worse: asking friends for money.

These things can make people really uncomfortable. In fact, for some people the mere suggestion of these things increases their heart rate or makes their palms begin to sweat. “Don’t even ask me to do that!”

So, it comes as no surprise that nonprofit CEOs, board members and volunteers (and even the unseasoned fundraiser) can sometimes be reluctant to ask for money.

It’s one thing to get people to roll up their sleeves to help, or to get those same people to donate to a cause they believe in. It’s another thing to find board members and volunteers who are willing and able to be effective fundraisers for your organization.

Too often, very well-intentioned board members and volunteers will say “I’m happy to give you my time and my money – but please don’t expect me to ask for money. I can’t approach my friends for money – and I certainly won’t ask them for an estate gift!”

In most cases, board members have no formal training as fundraisers. They may have the business and interpersonal skills necessary to ask for a significant gift – but have no practical experience in that realm.

Fundraising staff can struggle with making an ask, too – particularly for a planned gift. A new planned giving fundraiser visited with me over coffee earlier this year. She described meeting with the same donors and prospects several times, getting to know them and discovering their interests and passions, thanking them for their past support – but struggling to make the pivot in the conversation to ask for a planned gift. She asked me “How do you ask someone to consider their own demise – and ask whether they’ve included our organization in their estate plans?” It can be uncomfortable when you look at it that way.

But there are other ways to approach the conversation. Storytelling provides a different perspective. People are more attentive, more responsive, and more generous when they are engaged in a good story. In the noisy world in which we live – with constant news, updates, mail, video, social media, and more – the most effective way to communicate and influence is with stories.

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April 28, 2020

Warning Signs You Need to Know About

While the nonprofit sector continues to raise massive amounts of money, danger lies ahead for fundraising professionals as the coronavirus health crisis leads us further into an economic calamity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction, individuals, corporations, and foundations have responded with robust giving. For example, individual giving revenue through direct mail, processed by Merkle RMG, has increased 5.8 percent year-over-year even while the volume of donations dropped by 15.5 percent, according to Merkle RMG’s Impact Report, COVID-19: How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Impacting Direct Mail Fundraising (transactions through April 19, 2020).

The initial philanthropic response to the pandemic is not surprising for those who have experienced major challenges in the past. Giving lags changes in economic conditions. For instance, during the Great Recession (2007-09), we also saw a similar philanthropic pattern with revenue initially increasing while the number of donors declined. The following graph from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company, illustrates the point:

Now, let me just mention that no one has a crystal ball or time machine. Therefore, no one, including me, can precisely predict what will happen and when it will happen. Nevertheless, we do know that during past crises, we saw that charitable giving fell after an initial surge.

The overall economy has a profound effect on philanthropic giving. We know that overall philanthropy correlates with Gross Domestic Product at the rate of about two percent. Furthermore, historical data shows that individual giving correlates with personal income at the rate of roughly two percent. In other words, when the economy is strong, giving will be strong; when the economy falters, giving will slow.

Because the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major global economic disruption, we can anticipate that this will eventually have a negative effect on philanthropic giving. Consider these warning signs:

As corporations see profits eroded, as foundations see investments decimated, as individuals see personal income slashed, charitable giving will likely decrease. However, there are some mitigating factors in play:

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April 14, 2020

10 Fundraising Strategies for Complex & Major Gifts During COVID-19

The following guest blog post is from philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP®. He originally posted it on LinkedIn, and I’m reposting it here with Russell’s kind permission. I’m reposting the piece because of the enormous importance of the subject and the valuable information it contains.

Engaging donors in planned-giving conversations is still possible during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Russell and I shared our FREE whitepaper “Legacy Giving: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?” Now, I want to share Russell’s 10 charitable planning strategies you should keep in mind when seeking complex and major gifts during these challenging times:

 

The market went down. A lot. The economy is temporarily frozen. Unemployment may increase dramatically. In the past, all of these things have been bad for charitable giving. We can’t control that. So, what can we control? What strategies make sense for fundraising, in particular for complex and major gifts?

Here are ten charitable planning concepts to keep in mind.

1.    Crisis is the time to show support

A social/friendship/family relationship encourages sharing. A transactional/market/exchange relationship does not. We see this in fundraising experiments where family language (simple words and stories) consistently outperforms formal language (technical words and contract language). One of the defining moments that identifies a friendship relationship, rather than a transactional relationship, is during a crisis.

In our personal lives, we know this. When you might be in trouble, a good friend is one who reaches out to help. A friend visits you in the hospital. A friend comes to the funeral with you. A friend listens whenever trouble strikes. In time of crisis, reaching out with concern, help, or even a relevant gift reinforces this social/friendship/family type of relationship.

Ideally, the first contact with donors in a time such as this should begin with concern. Are you OK? Do you need anything? Can we help? Later, we can return to the typical donor-charity dynamic. (If you represent a cause related to public health or COVID-related assistance, that return may happen more quickly.) But, first we want to show friendship-like support during a time of crisis.

2.    The first giving conversations should be with DAF-holders

Requests made to donors with funded Donor Advised Funds will be successful earlier than requests made to others. During times of downturn and uncertainty, people are more likely to hold tightly to their wealth. This drives down charitable giving. But distributing funds already in a DAF doesn’t affect personal financial security.

During the last major economic downturn, many private foundations temporarily increased their distributions to help soften the blow for their grantees. The same reasoning can apply to individual donors who have already funded their DAFs. Due to tax planning strategies, many may have placed multiple years’ worth of future expected donations into a DAF. Given the current crisis, it makes sense to consider this as a time to empty those accounts earlier than originally planned.

3.    One-time special requests work, but be careful with a crisis

In fundraising experiments, people are more willing to donate in response to a special, one-time need than for ongoing needs. An appeal for one-time needs that arise as a result of the current turbulence may be particularly effective. In experiments, people respond more to appeals during a time of crisis. We are all sharing this experience together. We can work together to help overcome the effects of this hit.

However, it is important in such appeals to identify the crisis as a crisis for beneficiaries or for the cause, but not an organizational crisis. Projecting organizational instability might help get the $50 gift today, but it will come at the cost of the major donation later down the road. Major philanthropic investments don’t go to unstable organizations.

4.    Use planned gifts as your “Plan B”

During times of downturn and uncertainty, people are more likely to hold tightly to their wealth. Planned giving opportunities can help “lean into” this uncertainty.

Estate gifts take place only after the donor no longer needs the money personally. They can also be revocable. They can be a percentage of the estate, and thus can vary in size with financial ups and downs. These percentage gifts are actually much better for charities because they usually end up being much larger. (Fixed dollar gifts tend not to get updated for inflation.)

Irrevocable planned gifts can also help with financial uncertainty. These typically give the donor lifetime income or lifetime use of the donated property. Thus, the gift can be made while still protecting the financial security of the donor.

If a donor needs to back away from a commitment or feels that a future ask is too daunting, consider planned gifts as a “Plan B”. A response to such a refusal might include revocable or irrevocable planned gift options.

I certainly understand your concerns. I know others in your same situation who have decided to move their commitment into an estate gift instead. This provides flexibility with no upfront cost. There are even ways to do it that provide tax benefits. Would you be interested in learning more about these options?”

[This is followed by discussion of: 1) Gift in a will. 2) Beneficiary designation on an IRA/401(k), avoiding income taxes that heirs would otherwise have to pay. 3) Retained life estate, creating an immediate income tax deduction, discussed below.]

I certainly understand your concerns. I know others like you who have decided instead to make a gift that gives them lifetime income. With interest rates being so low and the market being so volatile, many people like the fixed payments coming from a charitable gift annuity. Would you like to learn more about this?”

5.    A charitable gift annuity as a two-stage gift

For those representing stable institutions offering Charitable Gift Annuities (CGAs), this may become a particularly attractive gift. A CGA usually trades a gift for annual lifetime payments to the donor (or donor and spouse). During times of uncertainty, the guarantee of fixed payments from a stable institution can be attractive. Following the last dramatic drop in the market in 2008, some large, stable organizations reported receiving exceptionally large CGAs. These very large gifts would normally have been structured as a Charitable Remainder Trust. But during extreme volatility, donors instead preferred the certainty and stability of payments guaranteed by the organization rather than payments tied to investment returns.

A charitable gift annuity can sometimes be presented as a two-stage alternative when uncertainty prevents a normal gift from being made.

I certainly understand your concerns. Another donor like you was in your same situation and she decided to protect against all this volatility by making the gift in two stages. First, she made a gift that gave her annual payments for life. If things go downhill, she has that income. But, if everything turns around and she ends up not needing the extra money, then she can donate those future payments as a second gift.”

Section II: Wonky Charitable Tax Planning Opportunities

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April 10, 2020

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Over the past couple of weeks, social media, the blogosphere, and countless webinars have pondered the question: Is this the best or worst of times for legacy fundraising? Unfortunately, despite the high volume of opinions circulating, a view grounded in science has yet to emerge. So, philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and I teamed up to prepare a special white paper for you that analyzes the current legacy-giving environment and reveals to you a path forward that we base on fact rather than emotional whim.

This blog post provides you with the full paper, nearly 5,000 words, with all of its insights and tips. In addition, you can download the PDF version for FREE. You may want to share the white paper PDF with your CEO, CFO, and board leadership.

Because of the unusual length of this post, I won’t offer any additional introductory comments other than to say that Russell and I are available for speaking engagements, training sessions, consultation, and interviews to address this and other relevant subjects. For more information, please contact me.

Now, here is the complete white paper:

 

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and Michael J. Rosen

The death media currently inundate us with panic-inducing news. Ubiquitous reports about the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Daily death tolls. Images of people in masks or complete hazmat suits. Talk of overwhelmed hospitals. News of quarantined regions and nations.

What should a legacy fundraiser do in the midst of a societal crisis? Stop communicating altogether? Make a last-minute push to get into a donor’s Will before it’s too late? Something in between? All of the above?

To get some guidance, it helps to start with a bit of social-science theory, a look at recent financial history, and early empirical data.

Social-Science Theory

We start with social-science theory because it’s actually quite useful to first understand what we know about how people react to reminders of death.

An entire field of experimental psychology focuses on this very topic. Scientists call it Terror Management Theory. This field has produced many hundreds of experimental results. Therefore, we know quite a lot about what happens when you remind people that they are going to die.

There are many technical books and papers on the subject. Google Scholar lists 12,500 of them. Here’s a quick summary. Death is a problem. People use two solutions:  1) ignore the problem, or 2) live on after death. Allow us to explain.

The Two Defenses to Death Reminders

People respond to death reminders with two stages of defense. The first stage (proximal) defense is avoidance. Avoidance comes from a desire to suppress the reminder. This suppression can be expressed in many ways. For example, it might involve physically moving away from the reminder (e.g., avoiding strolling past a hospital or cemetery when taking a walk). It might involve denigrating a mortality reminder’s validity or personal applicability (e.g., it can’t happen to me). It might be dismissing the subject with humor (e.g., the film Death at a Funeral).

The second stage (distal) defense is pursuit of symbolic immortality or lasting social impact. When avoidance doesn’t work, then we must somehow deal with our own earthly impermanence. We deal with this by latching on to those things that will remain after we are gone. In other words, I may disappear, but some part of my identity – my family, my values, my in-group, my people, my story, my causes – will remain.

People don’t treat personal death reminders in the same way they treat other pieces of objective information. In legacy fundraising, it has always been important to understand this. These two underlying defensive responses help to explain how people will respond.

Death Just Got Way More Offensive

In experiments, personal death reminders ramp up avoidance responses. The more death reminders, the more avoidance people will exhibit. Right now, COVID-19 news engulfs our audiences in personal death reminders. For many people, this will make any death-related communications aversive.

(Interestingly, people will gladly read the latest news headlines as a means of pursuing avoidance. People hunger for details on how to avoid the death risk. They will support strong action that promises the same. Others may even pursue avoidance by putting unwarranted faith in untested treatments or unproven protocols.)

In addition to people living in an environment that stimulates greater levels of death avoidance, current conditions cause individuals to feel less of an emotional sense of wellbeing.

Dr. Jen Shang, a philanthropic psychologist and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, among other social scientists, believes that wellbeing involves three essential characteristics:

  • autonomy – a sense of control
  • connectedness – the quantity and quality of relationships
  • competence – effectiveness

The more autonomous, connected, and competent people feel, the greater sense of personal wellbeing they will feel. Conversely, when people feel those qualities eroding, they will feel a decline in wellbeing.

In addition to the physical health risks associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic, people are experiencing psychological stress. Many individuals feel that current events are overwhelming them, knocking them out of their routines, and causing them to lose control of their professional and personal lives. With the uncertainty of the near-term, it’s not surprising that people would feel they have lost a great deal of control over their lives.

As the pandemic leads government officials to suggest or order people to stay at home, practice social distancing, and limit even essential activities such as grocery shopping, people are losing their sense of connection to other people including neighbors, extended family members, friends, colleagues, and more.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people are grappling with their feeling of competency when facing new conditions. Many have set-up a home workspace for the first time. Others are learning new technologies to communicate more effectively with others.

People want to have a sense of wellbeing. The more autonomy, connectedness, and competency they feel, the better they will feel. Generally, people will seek to engage in behaviors that enhance their sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, they will appreciate individuals and organizations that help them obtain greater wellbeing.

So, what does all of this mean for legacy fundraising (i.e., a key type of planned giving)? To begin, it means the following:

  1. Legacy fundraising communications that “lead with death” need to be shelved.

Many fundraising professionals are accustomed to being direct. Being blunt. Making the ask. Making it early and often. That may be fine for some types of fundraising. While this type of approach was often less than ideal for legacy fundraising prior to the pandemic, this is even more true right now. This is not the time to lead with death. In normal times, this will create some pushback. In these times, expect it to create massive pushback.

Yes, you should absolutely communicate with your organization’s supporters. Moreover, those communications should be about delivering value to the donor. Through your outreach, you should strive to enhance each individual donor’s sense of wellbeing.

  1. Now is the time to be “top of mind.”

Most people tend to put off estate planning in normal times. For example, in the U.S., most adults over 50 have no Will or Trust documents. From what we know about avoidance, such delay is no surprise. But, from a massive longitudinal study in the U.S., we also know when those plans are made and changed. The typical triggers for planning fall into one of two camps, family structure changes or “death becomes real.” Family structure changes include marriage, divorce, birth of first child, birth of a first grandchild, and widowhood. “Death becomes real” includes diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, stroke, moving to a nursing home, or actually approaching death (measured retrospectively).

Right now, many people are living the “death becomes real” experience. Consequently, there is a major upsurge in Will document completions – particularly online. Some sites are reporting greater than 100 percent week-over-week increases in completed documents.1 The Remember a Charity website, which promotes legacy giving for the U.K. charity sector, has experienced twice as many people visiting its “Making A Will” page as would do so normally.2

As “death becomes real,” people are also increasingly expressing interest in life insurance.3 One online life insurance agency saw the most ever monthly applications and sales in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic gained traction. Another online life insurance agency saw an increase in applications of more than 50 percent since February.

We know from experimental research that the charitable component of an estate plan is, for many people, highly fluid. In one experiment with British solicitors (lawyers), simply asking the question, “Would you like to leave any money to charity?” more than doubled the share of people including charitable gifts in their Will documents. Even small alterations in the wording used to describe such gifts results in dramatic changes in both charitable intentions and actual document contents.

For a charity, being “top of mind” at the moment in which people are actually planning is absolutely critical. More people are planning right now than in any normal time. Clearly, this is the ideal time for your charity to be communicating about gifts in Wills and even beneficiary designations. However, the language of how you communicate is most critical.

When viewed through the social scientist’s lens of individual wellbeing, the enhanced interest in estate planning is not surprising. Drafting a Will or purchasing a life insurance policy is a way for someone to feel a sense of autonomy or control over the current situation. Through these actions, they can enhance the feeling of attachment from relationships with those they love as they make plans to take care of these people. When successfully achieving their estate planning objectives, including supporting values and causes that have been important in their lives, individuals will feel an elevated sense of competency. In other words, a major reason we now see a spike in interest in Wills and life insurance is that it gives people an enhanced sense of wellbeing.

If communications from charities also enhance a donor’s sense of wellbeing, organizations may find that their donors will have greater interest in supporting them with a commitment in a Will or through a life insurance beneficiary designation. In other words, helping a donor feel better may ultimately benefit the charity.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Is this the best time or the worst time to be communicating about legacy gifts? Actually, it is both.

People are planning like never before because they seek to take care of their families, usually the first priority of those doing estate planning even in the best of times. The challenge for charities is that we need to be at the top of their minds when people are ready to make their plans. It’s definitely the best time for legacy fundraising. Furthermore, by engaging people, fundraisers have an opportunity, like never before, to perform a real service by helping donors enhance their feeling of wellbeing.

On the other hand, talking about legacy planning can be offensive like never before. People are emotionally-poised to lash out strongly against such death reminders. Take one step in that direction and the risk-averse herd animal known as your executive director will be ready to end your career. It can very-well seem like the worst time for legacy fundraising, particularly when done the wrong way.

We’re not talking about opposing camps. Instead, individual donors are experiencing both of these paradoxical orientations to one degree or another.

The Direct Route is Closed. Now What?

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April 1, 2020

New Charitable Giving Incentives in CARES Act

At the end of last week, President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The $2.2 trillion rescue package comes in response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The measure contains a number of provisions to encourage greater charitable giving including:

Universal Charitable Deduction Provision. Taxpayers who are non-itemizers may take an above-the-line deduction for charitable giving up to $300 in cash contributions during 2020. Contributions to Donor Advised Funds are not eligible. While the provision was intended to be temporary, the law itself states it “begins in 2020” and does not contain a sunset date, according to Jason Lee, former Chief Advocacy and Strategy Officer and General Counsel at the Association of Fundraising Professionals. That means that the provision might extend beyond 2020, something advocacy groups will seek to ensure along with trying to raise the $300 cap.

Increase of Itemizer Charitable Giving Cap. For 2020, the CARES Act eliminates the current cap on annual deductible-contributions for those who itemize. The law raises the cap from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent.

Corporate Giving Incentives. The law raises the annual giving limit from 10 percent to 25 percent of taxable income. Furthermore, corporations will be permitted to increase deductions for food donations with the cap increasing from 15 percent to 25 percent of taxable income.

Non-philanthropic Provisions for Nonprofits. The law contains several other provisions that can directly benefit nonprofit organizations while not involving philanthropy. The National Council of Nonprofits has prepared a summary of these key provisions, which you can find by clicking here.

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